They are two young players trying to carve out a spot on the Clippers, thrown into the deep end Thursday night when coach Doc Rivers had both Terance Mann and Rodney McGruder spend time trying to defend one of the NBA’s most lethal offensive weapons that is Houston’s James Harden.
Though Harden didn’t have his best shooting night, he still lit up the Clippers for 37 points in three quarters. He was just eight-for-22 shooting from the field, but was 14 for 17 from the free-throw line, often drawing fouls while driving to the basket or shooting a three-pointer. Harden also had seven rebounds and seven assists.
Both Mann, the Clippers second-round draft pick last spring, and McGruder, who is entering his fourth season, got a taste of guarding Harden during L.A.’s 109-96 exhibition loss to the Rockets at the Staff Sheriff Center on the campus of the University of Hawaii.
“A couple of times we clearly could have trapped and I just said, ‘No. Just guard him.’ He’s going to be James Harden at times and that’s fine,” Rivers said. “But I just liked our guys competing against him. The two fouls that Rodney got (on Harden) I liked that. At least he was physical. He was aggressive. He wasn’t backing down. That’s got to be the attitude we have every night.”
McGruder didn’t give in whenever he encountered Harden, his competitive nature looking forward to the challenge.
“If you’re a competitor, you look forward to matchups like that and to challenges like that,” McGruder said. “I enjoy competing against the best in the game.”
McGruder had 12 points, three rebounds and three assists, but it was the time he guarded Harden that caught the eye of Rivers.
“He makes you work. He can shoot any shot in the game. It’s like playing one-on-one,” McGruder said “It is out there when you’re guarding him because he can shoot one-leg, step-backs. He can do whatever. It’s fun though.”
McGruder picked up his fifth foul with 8 minutes and 33 seconds left in the third quarter when he fouled Harden shooting a one-legged, step-back three-pointer from the corner.
Of course McGruder didn’t agree with the call.
“Naw, I didn’t foul him,” McGruder said, smiling. “He sold it though. They gave him the call so you just got to go with it.”
Mann started the third quarter and he also got a share of running behind Harden.
It was not easy for Mann, but he refused to run away from the challenge.
“I was just locked in,” Mann said. “I was trying to learn the principle that Kawhi (Leonard) and everybody else was telling me. I was just locked in out there. It was pretty difficult. You don’t know what he’s going to do. He really likes that step-back. He likes driving left so you really don’t what’s coming.”
At 6-foot-7, the Clippers like tMann’s size and length, believing it can help him be an all-round player in the NBA.
He did play some point guard against the Rockets. He completed his night with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists.
“Terance has size. He has speed,” Rivers said. “I think he can be better defensively than what he was today. I think he has a chance to be a big-time defender. I thought he was a little more passive today. First game, though. So, I was encouraged.”
Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell still showed why they were the best combination off the bench in the NBA last season.
Williams did all his work in the first half, scoring 13 points in 10:26.
Harrell did his damage in the second half, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers’ two prize acquisitions over the summer, didn’t play, but both sat on the bench during the game.